Fraudster jailed for part in wine scam

Fraudsters Livio Mazzarello and Louisa Mbadugha cheated the public purse out of tens of millions of

Fraudsters Livio Mazzarello and Louisa Mbadugha cheated the public purse out of tens of millions of pounds - Credit: Archant

The second member of a fraudulent Neasden wine business has been jailed, while the operation’s main miscreant remains on the run.

Louisa Mbadugha, of Lewis Crescent, Neasden, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison at the Old Bailey last Friday.

Her partner in crime Livio Mazzarello, of Cricklewood Lane, was earlier handed down a 14-year sentence in his absence, having fled the country before sentencing.

The pair defrauded the exchequer of some £46.5 million in unpaid excise duty and VAT by failing to declare the true extent of the wine they imported from Italy and sold, under the counter, at The Italian Wine Company on Neasden Lane. They were both found guilty on June 8; Mazzarello, 57, was convicted of evasion of excise duty and VAT and money laundering, while Mbadugha, 59, who was the operation’s accountant, was found guilty of the crimes of evasion only.

“Mazzarello and Mbadugha thought they had developed the perfect scheme to divert millions of pounds from public finances. They were stealing from the taxpayer and undercutting legitimate traders,” said Simon York of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service.

The pair’s crimes came to light when records of the true quantities of wine being transported to the UK were discovered on a computer server in Italy.

When the Neasden premises were raided and searched, police found large sums of cash hidden under the floorboards, which they seized along with 70,000 litres of duty-free wine.

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CCTV footage also captured Mazzarello counting his ill-gotten cash.

Sentencing Mbadugha, judge Philip Katz QC said: “You were foolish to be charmed by crooks. Your role was critical, otherwise this fraud could not have happened.

“Going to prison will have a profound effect on those you know and your standing in the community, which has been destroyed.”

Mazzarello, who before absconding wrote a note to the presiding judge saying he had to return to Italy to see his ailing mother, remains unaccounted for; HMRC is currently pursuing a European Arrest Warrant so that he can be brought back and imprisoned for his crimes.